National Integrity Commission Bill 2013 - Second Reading


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (10:30): My apologies to the Senate and to you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I was talking on the phone to the most important people—and, of course, that is the media—about some good things coming out of the budget. I am very pleased to enter into this debate on the National Integrity Commission Bill 2013. It is a debate on a motion moved by the Greens political party. Before I get into the matters that I want to address, I will just address some of the issues that have been raised by other speakers.

I heard Senator Singh listing some activities happening before ICAC. They are serious matters. They relate to donations to political parties. But what about when these 'donations' go not to political parties but to politicians themselves? If Senator Singh wants to come in here and start slinging mud, perhaps we should ask her about Labor minister Gordon Nuttall from Queensland, who was not taking money for the Labor Party for elections; he was putting it in his pocket. Similarly, although there have been no convictions yet, my namesake in New South Wales, New South Wales Labor member Ian Macdonald, is accused of taking money himself and giving money to his friends in the union movement—not for the benefit of the Labor Party but as personal payments to them.

If you need an integrity commission to stop federal parliamentarians doing that, then I rue the day that I ever came to this chamber. I would have hoped that people who sit in this parliament have a greater sense of propriety and credibility than the likes of Gordon Nuttall, Keith Wright, Brian Burke, Milton Orkopoulos and Mr Eddie Obeid—a former Labor minister.

Senator Brandis: Rex Jackson.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes, Rex Jackson—and the list goes on and on and on. I would just say to Senator Singh that, if she wants to make accusations about suggestions of money going for political campaigning to political parties, she should have a look at her own party and see some of the absolute crooks and shonks that have been elected by the union movement to the Labor Party and, from the Labor Party, to various parliaments around the country.

We are talking about a possibility of a similar activity in this parliament. I wonder if such an organisation would have a look at the current Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. I suspect Senator Conroy did nothing wrong, but there were some suggestions that he had received a benefit from Mr Eddie Obeid.

Senator Cameron: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Macdonald has been in the Senate long enough to know that it is improper to make accusations against a senator and he should withdraw that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am happy to withdraw, if I made any accusations. I think if you have a look at the record of Hansardyou will see that I said that I do not think Senator Conroy did anything wrong. I think you will find that I said that. I said that some would say that his acceptance of a chalet up in the Snowy Mountains from Mr Eddie Obeid would need to be investigated. I heard Senator Milne listing examples from one side of the political spectrum, but I did not hear her mention that and I did not hear her talk about whether Mr Brian Burke's acceptance of accommodation from Mr Obeid needed investigation. Again, I am not suggesting there was anything wrong, but I do get a bit tired in this chamber when the Greens and the Labor Party, in particular, rise to their feet and make these accusations—never about themselves; always about the Liberal and National parties.

I repeat again: have we heard a squeak from the Greens about Bob Brown's ship dumping oil into the Barrier Reef? Have we heard a thing about that from the Greens? No. But they talk about a project that will create thousands of jobs for workers in Australia, that will create wealth for Australia, that will improve our standard of living because of that wealth and that will enable Australia to be a country that can be very generous to those less fortunate in our society—and the Greens are opposed to that. And haven't we heard them go on and on to try to shut down the coalmining industry that supports so many of the people who allegedly support the Labor Party—the unionists the CFMEU are supposed to be looking after? Where were the CFMEU when we needed them to stand up for the workers in the coalmining industry? But, no, the Labor Party have this cosy deal with the Greens and, if the Greens say it, they just roll over.

I do want to speak on the bill before the chamber, and it is actually a very interesting comment. If an establishment like this were set up, I wonder if perhaps the first thing the federal ICAC, if I could call it that, would investigate would be the actions of the Greens political party when it received Australia's biggest ever single donation from an individual. Senators will recall that, a couple of years ago, a Mr Graeme Wood, who was the Wotif man I think, made a donation of $1.7 million to the Greens political party.

We hear the Greens screaming about corporate donations to the Liberal Party; we never hear them talking about union donations to the Labor Party, but that is an aside. We hear the Greens carrying on and on about corporate donations to the Liberal Party. What about biggest ever political donation in Australia's history of $1.7 million to the Greens political party? Well, that is okay; I guess people choose to support various political parties with donations. But you would have to look at that particular one, because I was in the Senate at the time and I remember how the then leader of the Greens in the Senate, Dr Bob Brown, asked a series of questions, in this chamber and publicly, about a number of issues. Then Senator Bob Brown said, after Mr Wood's donation to the Greens political party, that he would be 'forever grateful' to Mr Wood. And Mr Wood said he was helping the Greens with the balance of power in the Senate, and he said it was 'probably a good return on investment'.

I want you to think about those words from Mr Wood, and I will repeat them. He said, when he gave $1.7 million to the Greens, that it was 'probably a good return on investment'. That might lead you to then look to see if Mr Wood did get a return on his investment. Those of us who were in the Senate at the time would remember that Senator Milne and then Senator Bob Brown asked a series of questions—somewhat contradictorily, I might say, depending on where Mr Wood's investment and interest in the Triabunna mill site of Gunns was at that particular time. You might recall that Senator Brown and the Greens went to extraordinary lengths to sabotage Gunns' sale of its Triabunna woodchip mill to the Aprin consortium, which wanted to continue milling there, and the Greens were trying to force the then Labor government into not supporting Gunns so that Gunns would have to sell the Triabunna site to the other bidder in the market, who just happened to be Triabunna Investments—run by who? Mr Graeme Wood, the donor of the $1.7 million to the Greens.

You might recall, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle, as I do, because I sat through it all, that they were asking questions in the Senate, taking points of order, making numerous statements to the media and personally lobbying the then government over these issues. Their votes on notices of motion in the Senate were also exercised in Mr Wood's interests. And the seriousness of the matter is evidenced by the fact that the actions of the then Greens deputy leader, Senator Milne, and other Greens senators, were caught up in the sleaze, particularly in the Senate, where, over a period of weeks, questions were asked, points of order were taken, and votes were cast—all favouring Mr Wood's interests. I could go through, chapter and verse, that sorry, sad tale—that almost sleazy, I would say, tale—of the 'investment' and the 'return' on the investment that Mr Wood might have received. That is the sort of thing that, if this bill were successful, perhaps this organisation could have a look at.

It was quite remarkable because, in the early stage, the Greens were trying to oppose the sale by Gunns to another timber industry so that Mr Wood's alternative bid could get the property at much less than its real value. Then, when the then Labor government in Tasmania did a deal with Gunns which reversed the situation, but Gunns had to keep the mill, the Greens started changing their position entirely. So that led many of us to believe that Mr Wood was certainly getting a 'return' on his 'investment'.

You only have to remember, as I do, the debates on tax deductibility for citizens' journalistic enterprises. That came around as one of the Labor government's early silly ideas. It, fortunately, disappeared without trace once Labor senators and members realised just how stupid the idea was. But those of us in this chamber remember that there was this push by the Greens to get tax deductibility for any person who might be investing in community journalism. Curiously, at the same time, this same Mr Wood, as I recall, was sponsoring an organisation called the Global Mail, which was to be a citizens' journalistic enterprise—non-profit, supposedly. Well, there must have been some profit in it because the Greens were quite insistent at the time that there should be tax deductibility for any investment in those sorts of things. Again, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with that, but those are the sorts of things that perhaps should have had greater investigation.

The other issue I talked about did go before the Privileges Committee, and the Privileges Committee, in its inimitable way, found that, on the direct questions asked of it, no breach of privilege was determined. But this whole episode involving Australia's largest ever donation to any political party still has a lingering smell about it. If this bill did get up, then that matter would certainly need to be addressed.

I turn, again, to the bill, which proposes establishing a National Integrity Commission, comprising three officers with oversight functions: a National Integrity Commissioner, a Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner and an Independent Parliamentary Adviser. Insofar as individual members of parliament are concerned, there are certainly procedures in place, the disclosure of interests et cetera. I would hope that federal parliamentarians have the ability and the integrity to do the right thing. But if you are talking about this group looking at agencies of the Commonwealth government then I wonder whether this measure is necessary, because there are already a number of bodies in place to prevent corruption.

Just very recently there was, clearly, corruption involving some Customs officers. It was the subject of some lengthy questioning at the last estimates hearings. Perhaps it was not so much questioning but more listening to the head of Customs telling us right at the beginning of estimates about these inquiries that had been conducted by the Federal Police and by Customs itself which resulted in legal prosecutions, dismissals and a new process put in place to prevent that sort of corruption in the future. So, in that instance, I was very proud of and impressed by the way Customs had addressed that issue with the Australian Federal Police themselves. I am not sure that any new body proposed by the Greens would have got a better result.

It is very clear that this government—and I think the previous government as well—has a zero-tolerance approach to corruption. I would think any government would be committed to stamping out corruption in all of its forms. This government's approach to combating corruption is based on a multiagency model which vests specialised functions and responsibilities in a number of agencies.

I listened to Senator Milne running off a list of complaints she has had and different incidents which, I guess, she thought might get a headline in some paper somewhere. But can I say to Senator Milne and any other senator—not that they need my advice on this—that if you or your constituents have evidence of illegal activity then it should be immediately reported to the Federal Police, the state police, the Commonwealth Ombudsman or the Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. These bodies are already in operation.

The Greens are, unashamedly, a genuine socialist party, unlike the Labor Party these days, which cannot work out whether or not they are a socialist party. I note the recent debate about removing the socialist objectives from the constitution of the Labor Party; however, I think the Greens, at least in that area, are absolutely frank. They are of that socialist party intent, but, again, that worries me with this proposal. It would mean, as with most good socialist ideas, huge bureaucracies, more red tape and more regulation, and perhaps that is part of the Greens' overall proposal or aim, as I see it, to try to shut down Australia at some time in the future.

Certain processes are underway. As senators in this chamber well know, there is currently a Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, which is dealing with allegations of impropriety in the trade union movement. So there are bodies around. In fact, I am very proud of Australia's position and reputation. We are consistently ranked by Transparency International as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. As I say, we have a multiagency approach to combating corruption. We are always looking at ways of strengthening these current arrangements rather than throwing out the whole system, based on a presumption that a National Integrity Commission would be more effective. I must say that I am not convinced of that. (Time expired)

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